REAL PERSONS: Real dating problems, no reality-TV solutions.
Somewhere along the line, VH1 became about as frumpy and catty as the office workers who keep the channel locked on their TVs 24/7. Could that be due to an inferiority complex caused by its younger, hipper, and better-looking sister, MTV? Or could all those hours of grossly ironic Best Week Ever and I Love the 90s finally have caught up? Either way, the channel best known as the cable equivalent of Dido has been long overdue for a transfusion. Enter Can’t Get a Date, a new “reality” “dating” show that, unlike most reality shows, is realistic. Moreover, it swaps out the superficial speed-dating feel of shows like Elimidate and The 5th Wheel in favor of insightful narration and self-improvement.
Each episode begins with a person — not a model or a struggling actor masquerading as a person but an actual flawed human being. Said person has a problem — sometimes physical, sometimes emotional — that prevents him or her from, well, getting a date. The narrator, who’s known as the “Host” and is voiced by series creator Stefan Springman, introduces this person in typical reality-show fashion, pointing out flaws for all of TV land to see. But then a funny thing happens: the Host, with the immaculate and unaccented voice of a movie-voiceover man, begins interacting with the person, all the while remaining off camera. And as the episode progresses, you realize that he’s having a conversation with the subject, not just giving instructions or coercing the answers that the producers want to hear.
“I think that’s what makes reality shows so unwatchable,” Springman says via e-mail when I catch up with him during an editing session. “You can (metaphorically) hear the director off to the side whispering, ‘Now tell her you love her.’
“The Host is not an expert at dating. He’s merely the honest friend that quietly mentions, ‘You have lipstick on your teeth,’ or ‘Get rid of that moustache,’ or ‘Quit talking about your ex.’ ”
In the case of Jim Behrle, a poet and expat Bostonian now residing in Brooklyn, the Host had quite a lot to say. A “self-proclaimed” overweight exhibitionist” who looks like the love child of Howie Mandel and Bobcat Goldthwait, Behrle had been mired in an extended dating slump since relocating in 2005. Hard to say whether it was the Hello Kitty bedsheets or the excessive toe fungus, but something just wasn’t clicking. During his stint on Can’t Get a Date, Jim gets some blunt advice not only from the Host (“Those are inappropriate sheets for a grown man”) but from a podiatrist and a personal trainer. Jim doesn’t seem to take their advice seriously, but in his follow-up interview, he admits that the show helped him get into a relationship “for a few months” and also improved his sex life.
In fact, the subjects of the three episodes that have aired thus far — Morgan, Mya, and Jim — have all emerged completely transformed on the other side of their 30 minutes. And though transformation is what Can’t Get a Date is after, Stefan Springman says there’s a little more behind the show. Dating, he explains, “is a cruel sorting process. It can be awkward. But it can also be exhilarating. We’re trying to bring it back.” Can’t Get a Date this week: May 5, midnight; May 6, 1:30 pm; May 7, 4:30 pm; May 8, 2:30 pm + 12:30 am; May 9, 10:30 pm